Lewis Hamilton ultimately went home empty-handed from the rainswept European Grand Prix at the N?rburgring, after enduring what was without doubt the biggest rollercoaster ride of his fledgling Formula 1 career.

Following his high-speed qualifying crash on Saturday - caused by a faulty wheel gun that led to his front right wheel detaching itself from the car - the young McLaren-Mercedes rookie was forced to start the race from tenth spot on the grid in his rebuilt machine. An early tap from Robert Kubica's spinning BMW-Sauber then punctured his left rear tyre in the first corner, while an 'off' as he joined a number of other drivers in aquaplaning into the turn one gravel trap put him a lap behind the pack - though ? la Michael Schumacher he did at least have the presence of mind to keep his engine running amidst all the carnage, enabling him to rejoin the fray.

Subsequently changing over onto dry-weather rubber too soon following the disappearance of the safety car left Hamilton an agonising one-and-a-half seconds shy of the points at the chequered flag. Though his unbroken podium record is consequently no more and his advantage in the drivers' standings has been slashed to just two points with seven grands prix remaining, fastest lap of the race did at least show what might have been.

"This was an extraordinary weekend," the 22-year-old admitted afterwards, "and a new experience for me. Initially I made a good start and was sixth. I got into fourth when the two BMWs went off, but then picked up a puncture and had to pit. The team took advantage of this and fitted rain tyres, but it just got too slippery and I went off. I managed to keep the engine running and a crane was able to get me free - thank you N?rburgring marshals.

"The race was then red-flagged. After the re-start I pushed as much as I could to catch up, but when you are almost a lap down you really have to rely on other people's misfortune. I was able to get ninth in the end after passing a Renault on the last lap, but no points."

"Lewis's race was truly eventful," added team boss Ron Dennis. "Following a great start which saw him move from tenth to fourth, he picked up a puncture and immediately went into the pits. We were able to take advantage of this and fit the intermediate tyres, though he was a little ambitious in trying to push forward in what were appalling conditions and spun, but fortunately kept the engine running. On being lifted back on the circuit he was able to continue.

"Following the red flag period it took a while for the timekeepers to establish that he had to drive through the field and past the safety car. Once this was done he decided to take the gamble and fit dry tyres and refuel. Unfortunately before being able to drive to the back of the pack, the safety car pitted and he was quickly swallowed up by those cars that were still equipped with rain tyres.

"After three laps the circuit dried, and he was ultimately able to unlap himself and then set numerous fastest laps to eventually finish one place out of the points. To come away with Fernando (Alonso) closing the gap on Lewis and the team extending its lead in the constructors' championship by two points is a great conclusion to a challenging grand prix."



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